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Eric Boyd’s story “Thundersnow” appears in Midwestern Gothic Issue 14, out now.
How long have you been writing?
I started out when I was fourteen, I was visiting family in North Carolina, where I was born; a buddy of mine messaged me on AIM and said we ought to write a screenplay together. I don’t remember why that idea came up, I don’t remember, but we did it. At the suggestion of our high school video teacher, we posted the thing to some website and got a surprising amount of interest. Of course the script was never filmed, it wasn’t very good, but one of the guys who wanted to do it ended up becoming a big music video guy. He just did a thing with Matthew Mcconaughey not too long ago. Anyway that director reached out to us years later, when I was seventeen, and we did some adaptation work for him. I think we each made like twelve hundred bucks on a few drafts for some thing that never happened. That’s still the biggest chunk of change I ever made from writing, and that was before I even started doing short stories.
What’s your connection to the Midwest?
David Lynch told me to meditate; he said it to me through a television. It was late and I was tired and in a bad place. I mean, I was willing to listen out for any kind of sign to get me out of where I was. At that time I was eighteen and I was here in Pittsburgh, where I’ve lived most of my life, working at a damn drugstore at the time, having customers throw febreeze at my head and everything. What else was I doing? I was ready to go away. So I took Lynch up on his physic offer and moved out to Fairfield, Iowa, because I knew he practiced TM [Transcendental Meditation] and there was a school out there that did it. So I attended the Maharishi University of Management for a little while, meditating and studying video, mostly. That town was great. I miss it and I made a lot of friends there that I believe I’ll have for a good long while to come. There was this weird magic to that place. One time, I was playing pool in the Rec room of the Men’s dorm, and I saw a tornado. The outward facing wall of the Rec room was all glass and I could see everything. A barn flew through the air, perfectly intact, like it was going in slow motion. Then it just fell to the ground out in this field about a mile up. That tornado was coming straight for the campus but I really didn’t have any fear of the thing. It ended up going right around the town; it’d been going in a straight line and then it just moved around us. Later someone told me that the Maharishi promised the school that a storm would never affect the campus—or maybe it was because the town was flat and the campus was on a hill. I have no idea. What the hell do I know about weather? In Iowa it’s all crazy.
Incidentally, I did meet David Lynch while I was at the school. Everyone knew my little story about how I came to be at there, and Bobby Roth [the head of the David Lynch foundation] introduced the two of us. He goes, “David, I want you to meet Eric Boyd,” and Lynch comes up, shakes my hand, and says, “Oh yeah! The one I spoke to through the TVVVV!” He got a kick out of that.
How has the Midwest influenced your writing?
When I started meditating, I had this huge explosion of work. My first short stories, a lot of poems, short films, screenplays, songs. All of that. I guess that could have happened anywhere but I’m really glad it was in Iowa. Like I said, that place had a real magic to it, and it truly felt like I was in America. What they call a microcosm? There were so many people from different regions of the world, all out there in the heartland to capture this very spiritual thing. Plus they wanted an education and all that. So it was very much like a pilgrimage, searching for the American Dream or something. All these crazy people out in the cornfields. We used to walk on coals in this area called ‘Strawberry Fields’. It was apple pie, truly; in fact, that’s where I first learned of American cheese on apple pie! I still eat that to this day, but up here in Pittsburgh they just fucking microwave it and it’s disgusting.
Anyway, in Iowa there were so many burnouts and failed seekers, and I was certainly among those folks. Everyone was an underdog in some way, if only to society, or themselves; to their aching souls. That’s definitely in my work, I think. I hope. The idea that everyone is fighting for or against something. Everyone wants something to believe in, if only to get them away from the world.
Why do you believe there has never really been a regionalist push for Midwestern writing in the past like there has with the South or even the West Coast?
Probably has to do with edges. Look at a map and you can see where California ends. When the coasts stop, they stop. The Midwest is a little vaguer. It seems more like a mindset than a place, sometimes. It has that blue collar attitude and Pittsburgh certainly has that, but at best Pittsburgh is Appalachia. It’s probably those edges that people can clearly see. The Midwest is the heartland, right? Think about that. Where does your heart actually stop? You have the organ, sure, but it pumps blood to every part of you. The Midwest is like that. I don’t care if you’ve lived in Miami all of your life, you’ve probably eaten corn trucked in from Iowa. That was a part of you. So I think it’s harder to pin down in that regard.
Also, the voice is hard as hell to get right. Midwestern English is hard to pin down. It’s like Indian with all the different dialects. Pittsburghese is pretty hard to get right if you haven’t been there, and it’s totally different from Philly slang, but then that’s why you see more California and New York literature. Maybe it’s easier. I don’t know. I think, for my story, I ended up doing slightly more Southern drawl than Midwest twang, and I’m definitely a little ashamed of that. So maybe it’s more difficult to make a movement out of that. It seems to be taking off in Europe. I think, over there, they’re starting to really see the Midwest, especially the grittier authors like Frank Bill or maybe Don Ray Pollack, as being authentically American. Frank Bill is huge in France now, I’ve heard. It always takes the States a while to catch up, even with ourselves.
How do you feel about social media to promote your writing, and do you use it?
I didn’t even have a cell phone for the longest time. I used a payphone a few blocks away from my apartment, and people kept saying, “But what if there’s a fire?” Well, call the firefighters. What the hell am I going to do about a fire? But I finally got a phone when I was about twenty-one. I still don’t have a smartphone, so I don’t know much about Instagram or any of that. I’ve got a facebook, and that’s pretty strictly for messaging friends, keeping in touch with people. If someone, like a fan, adds me on there, I’ll usually accept—but it’s mostly just for personal stuff. I don’t share too much on there unless it’s really important.
Mostly I’m on tumblr. I started a page a long time ago. In fact, I had a page before the one I have now, and I got no idea where that even is anymore. But I post a lot of stuff on there. Around 2008, when I was in Iowa, I started writing six word stories/poems. I was really into Hemingway at the time—in fact, I just bought damn near all of his work recently, but I haven’t cracked back into any of it yet—and his six word story is a knockout. Of course everyone thinks so, but that started me on writing my own. I had an old desktop computer that must have had a thousand or more pieces saved on it; I’d write a hundred at a time some nights. That thing crashed years ago, but I started my tumblr page and began posting six worders every day. Nobody cared much. I mean, I was getting maybe two or three people to like my stuff day in, day out. But eventually, I guess I was just doing it enough to where the tumblr gods, whoever they are, decided to ‘spotlight’ me on the poetry section of the site. I thought I was just going to be featured on that for a month or so; I was posting everything I had. Photos, poems, prose, drawings, scripts. Everything, just trying to make the most of it. But I never got taken down. I’ve got a bunch of followers because of that. I think I’m one of those people where—say you sign up for tumblr and they ask you what you like, and you say mayonnaise or something—they suggest you follow my page. I suppose it’s nice. A lot of people message me, asking for six worders. I enjoy doing that because it keeps me on my toes. They get a piece of writing and I get to try compressing someone’s entire life into six words. It’s a fair trade. In fact, I probably get more out of it than they do. I get to sharpen that knife, you know?
Past that I’ve got a few other things. I’ve got a twitter, but that’s mostly a dump-site for my tumblr posts. Every once in a while I’ll tweet something. The other day I tweeted a clipped version of this chili recipe I came up with. We didn’t have anything in the apartment worth eating on its own, so I threw a bunch of crap together and it ended up being pretty good. The secret ingredient there was espresso grounds.
That’s tough for me to say. I really don’t read too much. I go in spurts. In Iowa I read a good deal, mostly JT LeRoy—whose work I think became criminally underrated after all that crap happened and the critics soured on her—and I read a lot of technical manuals. How-to’s on filmmaking and woodworking. Stuff like that. In jail I read a lot of Rimbaud and Céline. Real bitter shit. I watch more movies than anything else. But lately I’ve been trying to read more. I read Tobacco Road not long ago. It’s taken me over a month to get through Catcher in the Rye, and it’s not from a lack of interest; it’s just hard for me to read sometimes. If I’m ever stuck, but I really want to pick something up, Bukowksi’s Post Office or Hemingway’s Sun Also Rises have always been staples. The best book I’ve read in a long time, especially because I felt so close to it, was Cain’s Postman Always Rings Twice. Even though I just discovered that book, I feel like I’ve been ripping that guy off for years. The voice, the style, the pacing. When I write, I imagine a character telling me a story, and I hear it the way they tell it to me; I’m just a dictation machine at that point. Postman does that. You feel like you’re in the room, hearing this story. A while back, someone asked me whose work I thought spoke to me; they said how they felt my shit was like Denis Johnson—who’s a guy that I only read because so many people compared my stuff to his, and he’s good, but I didn’t see it that much—and I said I dug James M. Cain. I went on and on about Postman. They said, “That book is like seventy years old.” I guess that was supposed to mean something. I still don’t know what.
Hot dogs. I couldn’t live without them. I’m pretty happy so many companies are starting to do uncured, all-beef ones. A little healthier, maybe. I don’t have any interest in living forever, but if I can spend fifty cents more for a hot dog that isn’t guaranteed to give me cancer, I’ll eat that hot dog. I’ll just stick them on a fork and heat them off the burner on the stove, like I’m camping out. If you do that, make sure you use a fork with a rod-through handle—plastic or wood, whatever—so you don’t burn yourself. But yeah, hot dogs. I also worked at a Thai restaurant for two years, so that grew on me. I quit there recently. I need a job now.
If you could have coffee (or tea or a beer) with any literary figure, alive or dead, who would it be?
I mentioned Frank Bill before, and I did have pizza and beer with him in Louisville once. A good man. Past that, I really don’t know. I want to meet people, not figures. It’s hard to meet an idol. I can’t imagine meeting with someone like Hunter Thompson and not feeling depressed after. Something about shaking a hero’s hand, feeling their bones compressing in yours. It ruins something, I think. You don’t know if they’re false idols until that moment, so I’ll skip it.
Where can we find more information about you?
Like I said, I’m on some of those different websites. Folks are welcome to reach out. And let’s face it, if you want to talk to me, you probably don’t have many friends—I’ll try to be your friend.
YOUTUBE VIDEO OF ME TALKING ABOUT DAVID LYNCH / MEDITATION
(look at that hair)